NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, February 10th, 2022

February is Black History Month. It’s a good time to ask: What are you doing to make your community a better place for Black people?

We have seen a lot of protest in the past cou­ple years.

We wit­nessed protests after the mur­der of Ahmaud Arbery by strangers. Then peo­ple protest­ed in response to the mur­der of Bre­on­na Tay­lor by the police. That was fol­lowed by world­wide Black Lives Mat­ter protests in response to the mur­der of George Floyd, who was also killed by the police.

Peo­ple marched in Minneapolis.

They marched in New York City. They marched in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., our nation’s cap­i­tal. They marched in Seat­tle. They marched in Portland.

As some marched, out of con­cern for the health of my par­ents, who are in their sev­en­ties, I decid­ed to avoid phys­i­cal con­tact with peo­ple out­side of my close cir­cle. Instead, I went live on Face­book, chal­leng­ing peo­ple to show up dif­fer­ent­ly for their Black fam­i­ly mem­bers and col­leagues and neigh­bors, for church mem­bers who shared a pew or par­tic­i­pat­ed in the same home group.

I began to fol­low oth­ers who were read­ing and speak­ing and writ­ing about cur­rent events — about police bru­tal­i­ty, about immi­gra­tion, about who was being impact­ed by the nov­el coro­n­avirus, about vir­tu­al learning.

I watched as peo­ple on my Face­book time­line post­ed hor­ri­ble mes­sages about Black Lives Mat­ter marchers and sug­gest­ed Black peo­ple should just “get with the pro­gram or leave the country.”

I watched peo­ple I had known for decades rage about the require­ment to wear a mask, say­ing it impinged on their free­doms, sug­gest­ing that all of us who were will­ing to be vac­ci­nat­ed were igno­rant lemmings.

I did not march, but I was com­mit­ted to doing any­thing to con­tribute to change. There was only so much talk­ing I could do, only so many hours in the day.

I had to find a plat­form that could do the work when I could not be around, while I was asleep. So I wrote a book.

And then I began to get calls from schools about stu­dents who were being called the “n‑word” and oth­ers who were being harassed for their gen­der identities.

I have host­ed a week­ly con­ven­ing of edu­ca­tors, par­ent and stu­dents for close to two years. Until recent­ly, we spent the time respond­ing to ran­dom prob­lems of prac­tice relat­ed to equity.

Sud­den­ly, the inci­dents of offense were so many (the most I had seen in my thir­ty year career in edu­ca­tion) that we knew we must devote our time to cre­at­ing a plan to help the edu­ca­tion sys­tem sig­nif­i­cant­ly change to cre­ate school spaces that were safe and affirm­ing for our most under­rep­re­sent­ed students.

And then a boy at a bas­ket­ball game record­ed him­self yelling at the point guard of the oppos­ing team, call­ing him “goril­la” and mak­ing ape noises.

That video was post­ed on Insta­gram and the Black boy, who was tar­get­ed, was tagged. The boys both attend schools in our coun­ty — not the same dis­trict but the same region. To com­pli­cate mat­ters, the offend­er is an immi­grant, a refugee, in fact. His fam­i­ly left every­thing they knew after years of high­er edu­ca­tion and jobs with great esteem to come to Amer­i­ca, the land of opportunity.

The offend­ed boy is the son of a Black father who expe­ri­enced much of the same as a child in our com­mu­ni­ty, who can tell sto­ries of being called names as an ath­lete almost twen­ty years ago.

He speaks of hopes he had for his child to not have to endure the same.

And so the stu­dents protest. The stu­dents in both schools protested.

Stu­dents at the school of “the offend­er” orga­nized and par­tic­i­pat­ed in a “walk­out” demand­ing their school hold their class­mate account­able and call­ing for peers to speak up in the future and not tol­er­ate such behavior.

Six days lat­er, the Black Stu­dent Union of the “oth­er” school invit­ed the Black com­mu­ni­ty — par­ents, com­mu­ni­ty advo­cates, pas­tors, edu­ca­tors — to a town hall meet­ing where they shared their sto­ries of mis­treat­ment in school spaces (racial and sex­u­al harass­ment). They had a list of demands, short and long-term. They planned a “strike,” which I expect­ed to be like the “walk­out” at the oth­er school.

On Mon­day, I dis­cov­ered that the plan for the strike was going to be much dif­fer­ent than the walk-out the pre­vi­ous week.

The stu­dent strike would be like the two Taco­ma teach­ers union strikes I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in — one at the begin­ning of my first year as a teacher and the oth­er sev­er­al years ago when I walked the pick­et lines with friends who work for the dis­trict. Unlike the teacher strike, where lead­ers were trained on nego­ti­a­tion and had a process in place to fol­low, years of teacher strikes before them, these stu­dents did not have a play­book. They knew they were hurt­ing and being hurt by pub­lic edu­ca­tion — for their racial iden­ti­ties and for their genders.

Stu­dents came with a list of demands — short-term and long-term — but, for a vari­ety of rea­sons, they were not trust­ing of any­one in admin­is­tra­tion or any adults with whom they did not have pre­vi­ous relationship.

Not trust­ing adults makes it very dif­fi­cult to nego­ti­ate with adults.

Stu­dents used social media to share their plat­form and pub­li­cize the events of the day. Rupert Mur­doch’s FNC showed up almost every day post­ing a pho­tog­ra­ph­er on the cor­ner just off cam­pus. On sev­er­al occa­sions, par­ents who did not sup­port the strike showed up to make their feel­ings known.

There were threats of vio­lence in the com­ment sec­tion of news reports towards the stu­dents and towards the school.

There is not one way to protest.

Protest is marching.

Protest is writing.

Protest is negotiating.

Protest is quiet.

Protest is loud.

We are a week out from the first day of stu­dent protests, and the stu­dents have final­ly built enough trust with adults to sit at a table with them. Admin­is­tra­tion has pro­vid­ed sev­er­al iter­a­tions of respons­es to stu­dent demands.

Small groups of stu­dents con­tin­ue to march. Small groups of par­ents and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers con­tin­ue to show up at the build­ing each morn­ing to sup­port the stu­dents in any way possible.

At this moment, I sit in Atlanta in my hotel room prepar­ing to address a room full of edu­ca­tion lead­ers from across the nation about the role of equi­ty in edu­ca­tion. This will be my sec­ond pre­sen­ta­tion at the Dig­i­tal Learn­ing Annu­al Con­fer­ence (DLAC), where I share sto­ries of stu­dents and admin­is­tra­tors back at home.

The top­ic of our con­ver­sa­tion today is “Are we at a tip­ping point in education?”

The protest as we have wit­nessed it in Lacey, the con­cerns expressed by stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are a reflec­tion of cur­rent real­i­ties in the Unit­ed States. We as a nation are at a tip­ping point. Who do we want to be? Who is us?

Who do we want to be as a nation from here out? Do we want lib­er­a­tion for all peo­ple who reside with­in our board­ers? Are we will­ing to be hon­est about our his­to­ry and embrace all the truths — the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Are we will­ing to look at sys­tems as they are — edu­ca­tion being one of those — to deter­mine the ways they are fail­ing US and doing harm?

We are at a tip­ping point as a nation.

There are many ways peo­ple are protest­ing our cur­rent real­i­ties. So many are hurt­ing. Many have lost work. They have lost con­nec­tion to others.

We have lost loved ones. We are tired. We are anxious.

There are so many unknowns. Unknowns cre­ate fear. When peo­ple are afraid, they respond in ways that do harm — to our­selves and to others.

In our fear, may we find pur­pose. May we lever­age our col­lec­tive pain and strug­gle to make our­selves and our com­mu­ni­ties better.

What is your protest?

Feb­ru­ary is Black His­to­ry Month.

What are you doing to make your com­mu­ni­ty a bet­ter place for Black people?

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